You may have heard about the recent outbreak of salmonella affecting birds in the Southeast, but there have also been one or two cases of birds dying from the disease here in Massachusetts. Salmonella is more likely to develop in bird populations in the spring, when feeders are crowded and lots of seed ends up on the ground that's saturated with melting snow and rain. Wet seed in and under your feeders will quickly get moldy, and moldy seed will make birds sick. The feces of sick birds get mixed into the seed and is eaten by other birds, which is why the disease spreads so easily.
It is always important to keep your feeders clean, but during a wet spring like this you need to take extra precautions. Mass Audubon recommends that:
- Feeders be disinfected weekly with a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.
- Clean the feeders outdoors in a bucket, rather than in your kitchen sink.
- Allow feeders to dry thoroughly before refilling with seed.
- Wash hands in warm, soapy water after any contact with a bird feeder or birdbath.
(Some people put their feeders through a dishwasher after finishing the cleaning procedure above, but don't bring any feeders in the house until they have been thoroughly disinfected with bleach and water.)
Whenever you clean the feeders, you should also rake up and dispose of the seed and shells on the ground. This is especially important when the ground has been wet or when salmonella has been reported, meaning that its important NOW.
Mass Audubon has also noted that "mixed seed is the cause of large amounts of spillage at feeders as the birds knock-out the filler seed to get at the sunflower seeds. To avoid this problem, it may be wise to use black-oil sunflower seed or sunflower hearts in feeders and avoid mixed seed altogether."
Finally, if you do find a dead bird at or near your feeder. Mass Audubon recommends that you:
- Keep kids and pets away from bird carcasses and away from the debris area under feeders.
- To dispose of the dead bird, wear rubber gloves or place a plastic bag over your hand to pick it up. Either bury the bird so it can’t be dug up and eaten by a pet or wild animal, or seal the carcass well and place it in the trash.
- Rake up and dispose of the debris under the feeder.
- Remove feeders from your property for two weeks so that sick birds will disperse instead of congregating in one place and infecting all the other birds.
The above information is from a Mass Audubon Wildlife Information Line document entitled "SALMONELLA AND WILD BIRDS." More information can be found at: http://birds.cornell.edu/pfw/AboutBirdsandFeeding/DiseasedBirds.htm